As I have stated previously, I spent the summer of 1983 working as a busboy and waiter at a resort in Southern Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I could not finish the season because I needed to get my impacted wisdom teeth removed. By the time I left, I was financially set for the upcoming year in college. When I got home, my younger brother was still complaining that I had not obtained tickets the previous Fall for him to see his beloved band The Who. That’s all I heard from him when I got back, that and him playing that blasted first Men at Work album. Don’t get me wrong, I love that album. But, by the summer of 1983, I had all ready played that album out and moved on. Additionally, Men at Work had released a newer album in the spring so I kept wondering why he just didn’t go out to buy that album. No, instead, I got a steady barrage of “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now.” Of course, I know I deserved a little payback in the music department, but I had the decency to give an album a rest!
Anyway, one day while at the local Record Store, I noticed that Men at Work was going to have a concert at old Market Square Arena (Trivia: the live place Elvis Presley performed live before his death!) in Indianapolis. So, I got permission to give him an early birthday present to take him and a couple of friends to see the concert. Personally, I was eager to see Men at Work, but I was definitely more interested in the opening band INXS. INXS was coming off a big MTV hit “The One Thing” and another lesser video “Don’t Change.” There was something about that band which piqued my interest.
So, here I am, a college “man” with a couple of college friends and my high school brother and a couple of his friends. Well, I was not prepared for what transpired. INXS came out and kicked ass! It was a take no prisoners type of performance that only a young hungry talented band could give. Honestly, it reminded me of a similar situation that AC/DC was in when they were the opener for Ted Nugent. In both cases, the people who were in the audience came away INXS fans. All I can say, though, is that Men at Work were WAY better than Ted Nugent. And as good as Men at Work were, they did not compare to INXS. This may cause some controversy, but I would rank INXS right up there with AC/DC and Bee Gees as the finest artists to come from Down Under, followed by Midnight Oil, Kylie Minogue (ooh la la!) and, of course, Men at Work.
Spring forward a couple of years, to 1986 and the release of “What You Need.” All of sudden the band stumbled upon their signature sound. The band finally canned that rock energy from the stage and reproduced it in the studio. Gone were the new wave flourishes of their previous album, replaced by a more dance-oriented Stonesy sound that capture the muscularity of the band’s musicians while opening room for lead singer Michael Hutchence’s Eighties version of Jagger/Jim Morrison sexuality to burst through. Now, the band was poised to conquer the world.
Sure enough, INXS followed U2 into the rock stratosphere upon the release of Kick in 1987. For me, the band was the ultimate Eighties outcome of what Grand Funk moved toward with “Bad Time” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” a sound with definite funk/dance undertones all wrapped up in a rock sound with definite pop tendencies. INXS had the sexy lead singer for the ladies and the muscular rock sound for the guys, plus their records played well in the dance clubs. But, unlike U2, INXS’ attempts to adapt their sound to the Nineties fell upon deaf ears, causing them to become relics of the past. And then tragedy struck when Hutchence was found dead in a hotel room either from a suicide or from a dangerous form of self-pleasure. Either way, the band’s visual centerpiece who coupled sexy looks with a dark inner self was gone. Unfortunately, no matter how hard the band tried, they just could not replace Hutchence. And that is a shame because, first, those musicians pack an unparalleled punch, and, second, their catalog of brilliant music should be continued to be brought to the masses in its most compelling environment – on stage live! Sadly, just like with Freddie Mercury or Kurt Cobain, there is just no replacing that snuffed out flame.
Ultimately, I believe that INXS belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their sound defined the latter half of the Eighties, as well as making a prediction of the Nu Metal sound that followed a decade later. So, let’s take a look at their twenty best songs, and I will let you decide whether these Aussies belong in the RRHOF with AC/DC and Bee Gees.
20. “Pretty Vegas” (Switch, 2005) [leader singer JD Fortune’s only entry]
19. “The Strangest Party (These Are the Times)” (The Greatest Hits, 1994)
18. “Not Enough Time” (Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992)
17. “Bitter Tears” (X, 1990)
16. “The Gift” (Full Moon, Dirty Hearts, 1993)
15. “This Time” (Listen like Thieves, 1985)
14. “Beautiful Girl” (Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992)
13. “Heaven Sent” (Welcome to Wherever You Are, 1992)
12. “Disappear” (X, 1990)
11. “Listen like Thieves” (Listen like Thieves, 1985)
10. “New Sensation” (Kick, 1987). This is the band’s arena anthem.
9. “The One Thing” (Shabooh Shoobah, 1983). The breakthrough song that got INXS’ foot in the door here in the States.
8. “Devil Inside” (Kick, 1987). This may be the perfect INXS song: thick, funky bass; rocking guitar work and dark lyrics. The song just might be the anthem that best summed up the whole decade of the Eighties, both lyrically and musically.
7. “Good Times” – Jimmy Barnes & INXS (The Lost Boys OST, 1987). This little-known track from that Brat Pack vampire movie is such an outstanding rocking song that it leaves me so perplexed why it never became a huge hit here in the States. And, this song just might be fellow Aussie Jimmy Barnes’ finest vocals ever. This is a lost classic!
6. “What You Need” (Listen like Thieves, 1985). I still remember hearing this song for the first time during the spring of 1986 and hearing it just jump from the little speakers in my 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit. Now, that was pure exhilaration!
5. “Suicide Blonde” (X, 1990). My thoughts at the time were like “Did INXS just go J. Geils on me with that harp blowing?” What a perfect effect! The boys just took their game up to 11.
4. “Original Sin” (The Swing, 1984). This great funk song is found a totally overlooked transition album. You can hear the underpinnings of what would happen on the next album. Plus, this song has the most socially redeemable lyrics of the Eighties, making a plea for interracial relationships. Sure, it may seem antiquated today, but you cannot believe the blow-back INXS got for this song.
3. “Never Tear Us Apart” (Kick, 1987). This is a beautiful ballad that contains a touch of darkness that separates it from the crappy ballads by Tiffany and Debbie Gibson that were popular at the time. Stark, dark and lovely.
2. “Need You Tonight” (Kick, 1987). Just might be THE signature song of INXS. It contains everything that made the band so compelling and great.
1. “Don’t Change” (Shabooh Shoobah, 1983). Am I the only person in the world who absolutely loves this song? I just love everything about it, from its new wave flourishes to the Cold War pall hanging throughout the lyrics, all tamed with a touch of hopefulness. Only someone who battles mental illnesses, as I do, might understand just how important that message is within those lyrics. Yet, it still makes me sad to know Michael might not have been able to control his demons. Still, I have a great memory of the band ending their set with this song, and how it unified a crowd for a brief moment.